It is fifty years since I joined a local group of Friends of the Earth. I started as an environmentalist. What I am going to do is step back a bit and look at both some of the failures and the tensions in a wider context of the development of the politics and policy of the environment over that period. When I started the environmental campaigning fifty years ago, the challenge was to extend the rule of law over what was then a completely uncolonized wild frontier of the environment, there was no department of the environment, there was no government policy on the environment, you could not look up environmental law in a library, there were no environmental lawyers. Indeed, there were no environmental professionals of any kind, so we really have come some way since then.
Now there is an environment department, the government has a 25-year environment plan, though it hasn’t published a formal statement of its environmental policy since 1990, there are a large number of environmental laws in the statute book, and we are party to a large number of international treaties, there are a vast legion of environmental professionals, and of course there are several battalions of environmental lawyers, so in a way the challenge has turned around.
The post-Brexit challenge for the environment is for environmental campaigners and environmental professionals to work out how best to protect the rule of law form the politics of Brexit. We have seen a rising drum beat of media stories about this government’s failures, air pollution is just one of the areas in which the government has consistently failed, and that drumbeat is likely to get louder as the drive to rebuild the post-pandemic economy accelerates and there is more pressure brought to bear on the environment. Politics, in one sense, is simply the art of making choices together, and law is how we encode the more enduring of those choices into statute.
So, the question of what Brexit has done for environmental law is about more than simply what is in the text, it is about what happens to people. What matters most to people, and to the environment? So, in a sense, the question we are asking is paraphrasing that line form Monty Python: What has EU environmental law done for us? Well, the past, as they say, is a foreign country, and we easily forget how things used to be, and that is as true of environmental law as it is of a city street. There are many things, just to remind us, that in the EU we used to take for granted in protecting the environment across the United Kingdom.
These are some excerpts of the a debate, the full debate can be seen here at PIEL UK:
The full article originally published by Green Alliance can be read here: There’s no doubt about government green intentions, but what about its ability to follow through? – Green Alliance